Students must understand the SA before they criticize it

Student Association election season is over and many students are relieved.

Freshman Justin Diamond ran on a platform to eliminate the SA and donate the SA president’s $15,000 scholarship to student organizations, taking the largest share of votes in the initial election. His last-minute campaign pushed the race to a runoff in which he fell to SJ Matthews, but Diamond’s candidacy sent a message to both the SA and students about how little people understand their governing body.

One-third of students are ignorant enough to vote for a campaign that suggested the SA should no longer exist. Even if students believed Diamond’s campaign was a joke, a vote for Diamond is a way of saying you do not really know how the SA functions or what it has accomplished. The SA has its flaws and could always find ways to be more transparent, but students should also know that as long as the SA exists, they will always have peers fighting to make their lives better. Before drama hits another SA election, students need to take the time to understand the SA so they can make a more informed decision on who they want as a student representative.

In his platform, Diamond accused the SA of failing to deliver on initiatives. He did not specify which promises the SA has fallen short on, but students should know that many of the benefits they reap in academics and campus life are the result of SA advocacy. Student leaders pushed for the creation of an LGBTQ studies minor in 2010, more gender-neutral housing options in 2010 and a policy allowing students to retake a class in which they receive a D+ or lower. I am glad I can access gender-neutral housing, and I really enjoy my LGBTQ studies minor. I am sure the hundreds of students who utilized the first-year forgiveness policy are glad their grade point average will not be dragged down by one poor grade as they acclimate to college. Students have the SA to thank for these programs.

SA leaders also conduct behind-the-scenes work that students may not be aware of throughout the academic year. Students created a food experience task force last semester to pinpoint areas where officials could improve campus dining options. The task force released its biannual report last week calling for the creation of a dining hall on the Foggy Bottom Campus. SA leaders also created another task force evaluating the problematic history behind building names, like the Marvin Center and Lisner Auditorium. Students may not receive frequent updates on these large-scale projects, but they should know that SA leaders spend months advocating for their peers.

Diamond also said that if the SA were to be eliminated, administrators should take over its job of allocating more than $1.7 million to student organizations every year. Students could easily agree with Diamond that their peers could be biased in deciding which student organizations get funds, but they should take time to understand how the allocation process works before criticizing it. The finance committee sits down for hours every April to allocate funding to more than 500 student organizations. It follows guidelines written out in the SA bylaws to avoid bias in its decisions and hear out student organizations that are upset with the amount they receive after the annual budget is set.

But part of the reason students voted for a candidate who wants to abolish the SA is the organization’s own fault. The SA has not passed as much legislation as years past, and the organization can always do more to proactively reach out to students rather than advertise their office hours. Newly-elected SA leaders have recognized the issue and have already vowed to make the SA more transparent, but it should not have taken a tumultuous election to force SA leaders to realize they could be more transparent. While students need to take steps to understand the organization, SA leaders also need to meet them halfway.

The SA has its flaws, but the onus is also on students to understand their only governing body. Students should take initiative to understand the SA’s past successes and build an understanding of what the SA is currently doing to help students through their own SA representatives. If students knew how many programs took months of SA advocacy to accomplish, perhaps they would not be so adamant about abolishing it.

Jack Murphy, a freshman majoring in philosophy, is a columnist.

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